Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy

Throughout pregnancy, you may experience vaginal itching, leaking, and spotting. Find out when discharge during pregnancy is normal, and when it could signal a problem.

Morning toilet in lavatory

For many, pregnancy is an exciting adventure full of ups, downs, and (yes) morning sickness. But it can also be quite confusing. With your body changing and things in flux, it's hard to know what's normal and what's not. And one thing that throws many expectant parents through a loop is vaginal discharge. You may be wondering if the fluid leaking out of your vagina is normal or cause for concern.

Here's everything you need to know about discharges during pregnancy, from what they look like to whether they're normal.

What Is a Vaginal Discharge?

The term vaginal discharge can mean a lot of things—and can be caused by a wide range of conditions—however, a vaginal discharge is, in its simplest form, fluid that comes from the vagina.

Is It Normal to Have Vaginal Discharges During Pregnancy?

While it may seem alarming, it is perfectly normal to have a discharge during pregnancy. According to the National Health Service (NHS), vaginal discharges during pregnancy "help prevent any infections [from] traveling up from the vagina to the womb." They also create a barrier which helps form the mucus plug, and discharges are actually one of the first signs of pregnancy.

What Causes Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharges are normal, and while the amount, color, and consistency of discharge will change throughout the ovulation process, in most cases, vaginal discharges are not cause for concern. They are a natural fact of life.

That being said, abnormal discharges can be caused by a variety of factors. Yeast infections, for example, can cause thick, cottage cheese-like discharges. Bacterial infections, like bacterial vaginosis, can cause greenish smelly discharge. And sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, can upset the vagina's delicate balance, sometimes causing painful or uncomfortable discharges.

Does Your Vaginal Discharge Change During Pregnancy?

Just as vaginal discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle, it also changes during pregnancy. During the first trimester, you may notice increased vaginal discharge. This helps to remove dead skin cells and bacteria from the vagina. The amount will also increase toward the end of your pregnancy, as the body prepares for birth.

What Does Spotting During Pregnancy Mean?

Nothing is scarier than bleeding when we're not supposed to. Countless pregnant people have a little spotting in their first trimester, after sex or a pelvic exam, or late in pregnancy. Most of the time, it's not a problem, and it usually happens because of implantation bleeding (the fertilized egg embedding into the uterine lining), cervical irritation, or for no reason at all.

Spotting later in pregnancy is usually related to having extra blood volume and circulating hormones that make it easy to break tiny blood vessels in the cervix. Late pregnancy spotting is sometimes a sign that labor is on its way but it could also indicate a more serious condition like placenta abruption. Whenever you have spotting, let your midwife or doctor know and then do your best to not worry.

What Does Wet Underwear During Pregnancy Mean?

Could wet underwear indicate your water is breaking? Possibly, but the culprit is most likely urine—especially if you leak only occasionally, such as when you cough, sneeze, or have a good belly laugh. Leaking urine is normal during pregnancy, and it occurs because of the pressure of the growing uterus on the bladder. Kegel exercises—contracting and releasing the muscles around the vagina—help some people control their bladders. You also can perform "prophylactic voiding," or going to the bathroom before you have the actual sensation of needing to go. Whatever you do, don't stop drinking lots of water in an attempt to avoid the problem.

If you felt a big gush, and liquid is running down your leg or dribbles constantly in fits and spurts, let your practitioner know immediately. It could be amniotic fluid (your "bag of waters"), which should be clear but can also be brown, green, pink-tinged or yellow. Unlike with urine, this leakage doesn't happen only sporadically; if your membranes are ruptured, you usually continue to leak fluid.

What Does a Clear or White Discharge During Pregnancy Mean?

"Some pregnant people have an increase in their vaginal discharge during pregnancy, and some don't have an increase at all," says Karen Nordahl, M.D., co- founder of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Fit to Deliver International and a Fit Pregnancy advisory board member. Discharge during pregnancy is usually normal if its thick, sticky, and looks a lot like mucus. The vagina is working overtime, making liquid to keep the cervix moist, sealed, and healthy. But if your discharge is a weird color, smells bad, or makes your vagina itchy or irritated, see your doctor or midwife. You could have an infection.

If you experience discharge during late pregnancy that looks like boogers, you might be losing your mucus plug. Sometimes it comes out in one blob, but often it comes out in bits and pieces. This could indicate you're going into labor (but is not a guarantee).

Can You Get a Yeast Infection or Bacterial Vaginosis While Pregnant?

Yeast live on your body and in your vagina all the time, but pregnancy creates the perfect conditions for yeast to breed. This could lead to a yeast infection, characterized by yellow or white discharge during pregnancy that's chunky, thick, or resembles cottage cheese. Other symptoms include itching, redness, and soreness in the vaginal region; some pregnant people also experience pain during intercourse and burning when they urinate. Consult your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter vaginal creams or suppositories and, if deemed necessary, to rule out bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted disease. Probiotics may also help; try Udo's Choice Super 8 Hi-Potency Probiotic. You can also take a stand against yeast by dialing down the sugar content of your diet (yeast love sugar) and making sure you change your underwear frequently.

Bacterial vaginosis is an infection caused by an imbalance in the bacteria normally found in the vagina. It's sometimes asymptomatic, but it can produce a fishy-smelling discharge while pregnant. The discharge is most noticeable after sex, and itching or burning may accompany it. Left untreated, it can cause pregnancy complications. "Bacterial vaginosis starts out as a vaginal infection, but it can sometimes ascend into the uterus and cause premature rupture of the membranes and preterm birth," says April Sarvis, M.D., an OB-GYN in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. If you suspect bacterial vaginosis, see your doctor right away. Prescription medications can clear up symptoms without endangering the fetus and decrease the likelihood of preterm labor.

Updated by Kimberly Zapata
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